Written By Zach Champ
THE LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA AND THE CHANGING TIDE OF THE WAR ON DRUGS
Marijuana should be legal. It is a comparatively safe drug for adult consumption and has been scientifically proven time and again to be medicinal in a variety of ways. As a recreational drug, it is no more inebriating than alcohol. The states in the United States which have legalized cannabis have been able to capitalize and bring in revenues of millions of dollars. It’s time to legalize recreational and medical marijuana in the DMV.
The political grandstanding behind legalizing cannabis in the Commonwealth of Virginia is a poorly orchestrated effort by private interests that goes against the popular mainstream opinion and demand. It also ignores the real market potential that could stimulate regional economies. Recreational and medicinal marijuana can also potentially help with the growing issue of opiate and methamphetamine addiction and abuse which has been a growing issue in the DMV.
Legalization of Cannabis in the DMV can help create thousands of jobs, inspire local citizens to become small business owners, and can provide much-needed tax revenues for the local school systems, public transportation, and social services through funding counseling and substance abuse programs. Anyone arguing against legalized, taxed, and regulated cannabis in the DMV are ignorant and don’t want to see their community thrive and grow. The potential here is enormous, the region could benefit from millions of dollars of additional tax revenue to the State Budget just like other states in the Union that have legalized medical marijuana and recreational cannabis.
THE CURRENT STATE OF CANNABIS LEGISLATION IN THE DMV
The Nation’s Capital has long been associated with the joys of cannabis! Washington D.C was surprisingly one of the first regions in the United States to legalize medical marijuana back in 1998 with Initiative 59 which was a voter led ballot referendum. Even though a majority of D.C voters approved the legalization of medical marijuana in this local expression of political power, the Federal Government intervened with the passage of the Barr Amendment. The Barr Amendment forbids D.C from spending public funds, ultimately appropriated and controlled by Congress, on the medical marijuana program. This response limited the ability of Initiative 59 to be a worthwhile, successful project. This type of policy back-and-forth between City Council and Congress was to foreshadow the District’s future struggles with legalization.
The Barr Amendment put a halt on D.C’s medical marijuana program for many years, but ultimately legislative loopholes and finagling allowed the City Council to finally implement the program in 2011. Medical programs and dispensaries started to open and service patients. The next step in the District’s public policy on marijuana was decriminalization in 2014. Once again Congress had to put its nose where it didn’t belong and make a stinking fuss, but their efforts were constrained.
The next bold move by D.C residents to legalize their favorite plant came again in 2014 when a petition started to begin a voter-led referendum towards legalizing recreational marijuana in the District of Colombia. This petition was the start of what would later become Initiative 71. Nearly 65% of voters approved of the ballot, and on November 4th, 2014 legalized recreational marijuana was voted into law in D.C.
In other states, this would be the start of the wonderful, community benefiting recreational laws where tax revenues from marijuana sales go back towards local education, public health, and other community resources. However this is the District of Colombia, and anytime anything half-way decent tries to get advocated for, D.C’s greatest enemy, Congress, shows up with the intent to ruin everything for everyone.
There is a Representative named Andy Harris, who comes from Maryland’s 1st Congressional District. Representative Harris is responsible for passing an “add-on” piece of legislation known as a rider, to an annual house spending bill that attempted to block the D.C City Council from spending federal appropriated tax-payer dollars on enacting Initiative 71. Representative Harris argued that the Initiative was an illegal referendum and that the Federal policy on Cannabis being a Schedule 1 drug needed to be upheld.
Representative Harris is quick to punish and critique, but he offers no solutions to help address the critical needs of the District’s residents.
Is his opinion even worth regarding any longer?
In fact, it is ironic that Representative Harris is so critical of legalized and decriminalized marijuana in D.C. when his home state, Maryland has recently legalized medical marijuana through state-regulated dispensaries and programs. Recreational use is still illegal in Maryland. In the future, it is likely we will see Maryland either decriminalize recreational cannabis use or legalize it. Surprisingly there has been some expressed backlash from companies in the medical marijuana industry towards legalizing recreational cannabis in Maryland. Their argument is that an adult recreational market would reduce and diminish the effectiveness and profit-making ability of the medical marijuana industry. I think this is flawed thinking, as medical marijuana patients require unique products and services that recreational users do not, and believe that statements like these just represent a selfish bottom line to stifle competition and maintain economic control of a market. We will see what the future brings for Marijuana in Maryland.
Photo Courtesy via Shutterstock
Virginia is a commonwealth, and if you are from Virginia then you surely have heard the bemoaned phrase “It’s a commonwealth” which is often used as an excuse for Virginia’s shitty hyper-conservative and sometimes extremely outdated laws and statutes. Marijuana is illegal in Virginia. Possession of a small amount is considered a misdemeanor offense, with possession of larger amounts and the distribution of any amounts being a felony. Only within the past few years has Virginia created legislation which allows CBD oil with a small percentage of THC in it to be prescribed to patients with severe epilepsy and similar diseases. It is unlikely Virginia will legalize recreational marijuana anytime soon unless there is a dramatic shift in attitudes of current state political leadership, or even better, changes in who the actual leadership is itself.
Vote, speak up, be active, and maybe run for office yourself if you want to see cannabis legalized in Virginia!
THE FUTURE OF CANNABIS IN THE DMV AND BEYOND…
Write to your local representative or delegate and express your support for legalized recreational and medical marijuana in the DMV. The only way we are going to get the legislation passed is by working together and in coordination to voice public support of this issue. We need to demand that our lawmakers hear our case, and rightfully remove the penalties and restrictions on the use of this cherished, sacred, medicinal plant.
Some lawmakers are already beginning to debate the legality of cannabis. The time is perfect for the public to reach out and influence those representatives who are on the fence about cannabis legislation. Public officials and lawmakers need to be explained the medicinal benefits of marijuana. They also need to see the bigger picture in terms of economic impact. States that have legalized recreational and medical marijuana have been able to generate significant amounts of tax revenues. Not only that, but with a new industry comes new businesses. This can include large corporate groups to small, locally owned or family-owned enterprises. All this translates into local economic growth regardless.
Already there has been a large increase in the number of Cannabis small businesses in Washington D.C. These businesses vary from head shops and consultation boutiques to actual cannabis or CBD products and services, to actual growing and distribution operations. Cannabis is a large industry no different than any other agricultural or pharmaceutical commodity. It requires complex networks to grow, ship, distribute, market, and advertise any of these products. With legalization comes the creation of enterprises and jobs capable of filling all these roles within the industry.
This all sounds exciting, but the reality is there is an unresolved legal status of marijuana sales in the District of Colombia. Because Initiative 71 doesn’t specifically outline guidelines and regulations for commercial sales, it remains technically illegal in Washington D.C to sell Marijuana in any amounts. Initiative 71 only allows for the possession of Marijuana and personal cultivation. Individuals may ‘gift’ marijuana but nowhere in Initiative 71 does it say that Cannabis can be sold and how so. The end result is that a gray market has developed where people purchase marijuana through straw-man like sales. The common scenario is an interested consumer will purchase a sticker, t-shirt, consultation, or any other product/service and receive a gifted amount of cannabis in return. Surprisingly recent statistics show that Marijuana arrests are higher than before Initiative 71 due to higher demand for weed in D.C and an increased number of individuals selling marijuana illegally.
This reflects a concerning trend in the legalization of marijuana, where the only people benefitting from the new industry are rich, affluent, upper-class whites... essentially the only people with the capital, resources, and networks to start large scale legal marijuana operations and businesses. Many people find this hard to accept as reasonable, especially considering that the war on drugs primarily targeted, pursued, and incarcerated minorities for the consumption and sale of marijuana. As a result, some public officials have expressed a need to establish regulatory oversight committees for marijuana-based businesses that can help foster and incubate more locally owned small-business versus having larger corporations, sometimes from out of state, come in and dominate the cannabis markets.
The true key to success with legalized recreational and medicinal marijuana in the DMV lies in fostering small business and allowing young entrepreneurs and former victims of the war on drugs an opportunity to use legalization as a means towards economic opportunity. We need to cultivate microloan programs for cannabis businesses and encourage young people to start local companies that can provide local careers and jobs. We need to tax the sales of marijuana so that money can be spent on our public schools, social services, local parks, and more!
It is obvious legalization is the key to many potential treasures.
However, the real question is who will ultimately benefit from these treasures…
In the meantime... cultivate love, harmony, and light one up!